U.S. wants Alberta man accused of smuggling handguns extradited

The U.S.-Canada border crossing at Coutts, Alta.

U.S. law enforcement officials are seeking to extradite an Alberta man they claim conspired to smuggle handguns with defaced serial numbers into Canada, including using the online black market Silk Road.

Colby Stephan Skolseg was in court in Edmonton on Monday for the start of an extradition hearing. He faces four counts in the U.S. of attempting to conceal items for illegal export and one count of possessing firearms with serial numbers “obliterated.”

Committal hearings like the one held Monday determine whether there is enough of a case to extradite a person. If the hearing determines there is sufficient evidence, the case is sent to the federal justice minister, who ultimately decides whether the person should be surrendered to foreign authorities.

According to a record of the case submitted in Nov. 2, 2017, by the assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Montana, Skolseg is accused of  smuggling or attempting to smuggle firearms to Canada from the U.S. for resale.

More than a dozen people are expected to testify at trial, according to the record of the case. The allegations have not been proven in court

An alleged co-conspirator, Patrick Inkster, is expected to testify that Skolseg first approached him in late 2008 about buying firearms from private sellers in the U.S., then smuggling them to Canada in an aquarium cooler with a false bottom.

The two would each put up about US$1,500 for each trip to the U.S., where handguns would be purchased for about $500 apiece, Inkster is expected to testify. The guns would be sold in Canada for $1,500 each after removing the serial numbers.

Inkster allegedly told law enforcement he could not purchase firearms from U.S. dealers as a Canadian citizen, but that most people making private sales at gun shows would not ask for ID.

The two also allegedly purchased fake U.S. ID documents with false names.

According to court documents, Inkster bought eight handguns at a gun show in Utah in September 2010 using his concealed carry permit, and then shipped them to a storage unit in Great Falls, Montana, which he says Skolseg rented online using a fake name.

On Sept. 30, Skolseg drove to Great Falls from Calgary where he allegedly destroyed the serial numbers and hid the guns in an aquarium cooler. Then, Inkster claims Skolseg shipped the aquarium via FedEx to an address in Calgary.

On his drive back, Skolseg was flagged for secondary inspection at the Coutts border crossing when his rental car overheated.

The court documents state a border officer told Skolseg to empty his pockets and found a FedEx waybill. Skolseg told him he had shipped an aquarium to Canada for repairs earlier that day.

Skolseg was released and later met Inkster at a pub, where they decided to contact FedEx to try to have the package returned to the U.S. But a few days later, Canada Border Services Agency officers intercepted it at a Calgary FedEx warehouse and discovered the handguns hidden in the aquarium cooler.

A photo of Colby Stephan Skolseg, included in a court exhibit.

Silk Road

Neither of the men were arrested or charged in Canada, according to the court documents.

The documents go on to allege Skolseg moved to Montreal later that year, where he made contact with a person willing to ship guns to Canada from the U.S. The two allegedly made contact through the black market website Silk Road and made arrangements through The Armoury, an affiliated site.

Between April and June 2012, Inkster was allegedly involved in three shipments of firearms to a mailbox in Calgary from the U.S. containing a total of 10 handguns. He told law enforcement that based on return address labels, the guns had been shipped from Wheeling, West Virginia.

U.S. law enforcement became aware of the West Virginia shipper in May 2012 after Israeli authorities intercepted a package in Jerusalem mailed at the Wheeling post office. The package contained a Glock handgun hidden inside a speaker.

A U.S. postal inspector later found an IP address in Quebec had been used to track four packages sent by the Wheeling suspect to the Calgary address. The man, identified as Michael Frank, is expected to testify that he shipped a total of 25 handguns to the Calgary mailbox.

The initial U.S. grand jury indictment was filed against Skolseg in 2012, with additional charges approved in May 2013.